Extension News

Ask the ISU Extension Garden Experts: Gardening Containers, Holly and Catalogs

Note to media editors: Got gardening questions? Call the Hortline at (515) 294-3108, Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4:30 p.m., or e-mail us at hortline@iastate.edu. For more gardening information, visit us at Yard and Garden Online, http://www.yardandgarden.extension.iastate.edu.


What types of containers are suitable for starting seeds indoors?

Various containers can be used to germinate and grow transplants. Gardeners can purchase flats, trays, pots, compressed peat pellets and other products. Previously used flats, trays and pots should be cleaned and disinfected before use. Wash the containers in soapy water, then disinfect them in a solution of one part chlorine bleach and nine parts water. Cut-off milk cartons, plastic jugs, paper cups, plastic food boxes and other containers also can be used to start seeds. Holes should be punched in the bottom of milk cartons, jugs and similar containers to allow for drainage.

Can hollies be successfully grown in Iowa?

American holly (Ilex opaca) and English holly (Ilex aquifolium) are prized for their glossy, green leaves and brightly colored fruit. Sprigs of both hollies are often used in wreaths, centerpieces and other Christmas decorations. Unfortunately, American and English hollies are not reliably hardy in Iowa. However, winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and Meserve hybrid hollies (Ilex x meserveae) can be successfully grown in the state.

Hollies are dioecious. Dioecious plant species produce male and female flowers on separate plants. Only female holly plants produce the red, berry-like fruit. However, a male plant is required for pollination and fruit set.

While most hollies are evergreen, winterberry is deciduous (loses all of its leaves in the fall). Winterberry grows 6 to 10 feet tall. The fruit on female plants turn bright red in fall and persist into winter. (Birds eventually devour the fruit.) Excellent fruiting varieties include ‘Sparkleberry,’ ‘Winter Red,’ ‘Afterglow’ and ‘Red Sprite.’ ‘Jim Dandy’ is a good pollinator for ‘Afterglow’ and ‘Red Sprite.’ ‘Southern Gentleman’ pollinates ‘Winter Red’ and ‘Sparkleberry.’
Meserve hybrid hollies are evergreens. ‘Blue Prince,’ ‘Blue Princess,’ ‘Blue Boy’ and ‘Blue Girl’ have dark, bluish green foliage and are often referred to as blue hollies. The female varieties have colorful red fruit. Other attractive Meserve hybrids include China Boy® and China Girl®. Meserve hollies are variable in height. Most varieties grow five to 10 feet tall. They are hardy to minus 20 F (USDA Hardiness Zone 5).

How can I obtain mail-order garden catalogs?

Hundreds of garden catalogs are available from companies throughout the United States. Some companies specialize in specific plants, such as perennials, bulbs, roses or fruits. Other companies offer a wide assortment of plant materials and garden accessories.                                          

A beginning gardener may obtain catalogs by contacting the companies. Addresses and/or mailing cards can be found in the winter issues of many gardening magazines, such as Horticulture and Organic Gardening. Catalogs can also be requested from the web site of the Mailorder Gardening Association (www.mailordergardening.com) and other Internet sites. While many catalogs are free, some companies charge a small fee. If you have ordered from a company within the last one or two years, you likely will be sent a catalog automatically.


Contacts :

Richard Jauron, Horticulture, (515) 294-1871, rjauron@iastate.edu

Del Marks, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-9807, delmarks@iastate.edu